“King David in Prayer (detail)” by Pieter de Grebber

The readings for this, the Thirty-Third Sunday of Ordinary Time, are filled with what many might describe as horrifying images of the end of times. We must understand these images before we arrive at the end of the liturgical year next Sunday with the Solemnity of Christ the King.

The Prophet Daniel speaks of a future time of unsurpassed distress (see Daniel 12).

Using the same apocalyptic language, Jesus speaks of days following the tribulation when the sun will be darkened and stars will fall from the sky.

But when are these times? Are they already in the past? Are they still to come in the future? How do they concern us and should we be anxious of them?

In a sense, the Church, by giving us these readings near the end of the liturgical year is already preparing us for the season of Advent which begins in two Sundays, a time that not only is set aside for us to prepare to recall the coming into history of our God as Man, a time that not only is set aside to prepare for the coming of the Lord into our lives now, but also a time for us to prepare for the Lord’s Second Coming at the end of history.

It is clear, from a literal reading of Daniel’s and the Lord’s words, aided by our vantage point looking back in time, that the Lord was preparing His listeners for the coming destruction of Jerusalem and the Jewish Temple by the Romans in A.D. 70.

So we don’t need to worry about His words applying to us, right? No, that is not correct!

The world of the Jews was turned upside down and from their perspective; the very powers of Heaven were shaken, just as Jesus said. But what about our world and our time or some future time yet to come, did Jesus mean for us take heed? Certainly He meant that very thing. For just as the world of the Jews as they knew it came to an end, so will ours. From the Catechism:

“Before Christ’s second coming the Church must pass through a final trial that will shake the faith of many believers. The persecution that accompanies her pilgrimage on earth will unveil the “mystery of iniquity” in the form of a religious deception offering men an apparent solution to their problems at the price of apostasy from the truth. The supreme religious deception is that of the Antichrist, a pseudo-messianism by which man glorifies himself in place of God and of his Messiah come in the flesh” (CCC 675).

And then at some point, maybe in our own time, the heavens and the earth will pass away.

Where is the hope in today’s readings that we can cling to as we look forward to the coming of the Lord?

That hope is found right there in the reading from the Book of Daniel, “But the wise shall shine brightly like the splendor of the firmament, and those who lead the many to justice shall be like the stars forever” (Daniel 12:3).

That hope is found in the words of Jesus, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away” (Mark 13:31).

One of my favorite quotations from Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings is:

“All that is gold does not glitter,
Not all those who wander are lost;
The old that is strong does not wither,
Deep roots are not reached by the frost.

“From the ashes a fire shall be woken,
A light from the shadows shall spring;
Renewed shall be blade that was broken,
The crownless again shall be king.”

Since the beginning of time and the fall of the rebellious angels, we have experienced the consequences of the Great War that continues to rage between the forces of good and the forces of evil. We know the end of the Lord’s story and look with confidence to ours. The final victory over death and evil is already won—it is His victory. However, until that final victory is realized in the fullness of time, we are left to engage in the skirmishes that remain.

The Lord did not speak the words in today’s Gospel to bring us to despair; He spoke them to equip us with fortitude and the consolation we need to persevere, trusting in His Holy Word which shall never pass away.

The Psalmist gives us the right attitude we should have, “I set the Lord ever before me; with him at my right hand I shall not be disturbed. Therefore my heart is glad and my soul rejoices, my body, too, abides in confidence” (Psalm 16:8-9) Peace of soul is a sign of a strong spiritual life.

We must keep this attitude about us as we also recall the Lord’s words about the time of which He spoke, “But of that day or hour, no one knows” (Mark 13:32). 

We do not know the day or hour of our time. Nor do we know the form of our tribulation. It might be an unexpected illness, a loss of job, a time of doubt and distress, the moment of our own death… or of the Second Coming—we just don’t know when. The Lord tells us these things so that we will not worry about the when or how, but so that we will be ready when He comes for us.

Five Keys to Set the Lord Ever Before Me

How can we make certain then that I always “set the Lord ever before me?” Let’s not overcomplicate it. We can:

  1. Surrender to the Lord and trust in Him.
  2. Pray unceasingly that we will grow in love of Him, be obedient and faithful and be found ready when He comes for us.
  3. Make frequent Sacramental Confessions.
  4. Worthily receive Holy Communion in humility and thanksgiving.
  5. Faithfully minister in body and spirit to those in need, leading them to justice and mercy.

Into the deep…

The Mass readings for the Thirty-Third Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year B) are Daniel 12:1-3; Psalms 16:5, 8, 9-10, 11; Hebrews 10:11-14, 18; Mark 13:24-32.

Deacon Bickerstaff is available to speak at your parish or event. Be sure to check out his Speaker Page to learn more. Into the Deep is a regular feature of the The Integrated Catholic Life™.

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